An All New Edition of A Celebrity Caper
Ocean’s Eight is the second reboot of Ocean’s 11, the 1960 Rat Pack caper film that was just an excuse to get a bunch of celebrities together to pull off a heist. It’s fitting then that the subsequent Ocean’s Eleven, its two sequels, and now Ocean’s Eight were also mostly excuses to get a bunch of celebrities together to pull off a heist. What sets this recent film apart is its decision to star an all-female cast, in contrast to the men’s only club of previous outings. Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake took steps to diversify the races and ages of its crew but stopped short of gender. Ocean’s Eight wants to show the world that women can commit mass burglary and look good doing it too.
Con artist Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of Danny, is released from prison after having been framed by her ex-boyfriend Claude (Richard Armitage). Reuniting with her friend Lou (Cate Blanchett), she conspires to pull off a diamond heist at the Met Gala targeting a necklace being worn by actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), currently dating Claude. To do this they hire a fashion designer (Helena Bonham Carter), a jewellery maker (Mindy Kaling), a hacker (Rihanna), a pickpocket (Awkwafina), and a racketeer (Sarah Paulson).
The film definitely acts as a light remake, especially of Soderbergh’s movie, of which it’s a direct spin-off. There are a number of story beats repeated from that film and the plot itself, though different in focus, is far from original. However, it does make a few advantageous choices. The movie actually shows us early on Debbie’s skills as a con artist in action. There’s also a better motivation behind the heist than in either Ocean’s Eleven –Debbie has a back-story, and though the personal connection to the job was the biggest weak spot of Soderbergh’s movie, here it’s much less shallow and in fitting with the character. As conventional a heist movie as this is, complete with plot twists, precision, and false alarms, it does a good job keeping the audience moderately invested due to some decent humour, and an engaging cast.
More than any other Ocean’s film, this one feels like an ensemble. It was a smart move to limit the team to eight, allowing for the individual characters to be better defined and not get lost in the crowd as some of the cast of the precursors did (I mean in three movies, did Eddie Jemison, Casey Affleck, or Scott Caan leave any impression at all?). They’re not all well-developed, but you get a sense of each of them more, where they come from and who they are. The performances are fairly good, especially from Bullock, Blanchett, and Hathaway. That being said, everyone is still roughly an analogue to the roles in the other films. Bullock and Blanchett have the same relationship as George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and just as much chemistry. Armitage acts as both Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia. Both teams have a petty thief from the streets, an antisocial programmer, and an actor putting on a different accent (Bonham Carter’s Irish is better than Don Cheadle’s Cockney at least). It’s just a shame they couldn’t bring in Cloris Leachman to be this films’ equivalent to Carl Reiner. Instead, the movie offers a bunch of celebrity cameos and appearances by a couple of the better characters of the Soderbergh films.
There is one thing that Ocean’s Eight can’t quite capture though and that’s a unique veneer. Soderbergh’s stylish touch is really what made that 2001 film enjoyable –from its editing to its music and atmosphere, it felt like it was really trying to be a Rat Pack film of the twenty-first century. And though director Gary Ross does a competent job, there’s nothing distinct in the look or the tone of this movie, making it come across very generic a lot of the time. It’s still entertaining, but only surface-level enjoyable, nothing substantial. This movie is clever about its’ call-backs though. Avoiding the mistakes of the Ghostbusters reboot, the references to the Ocean’s series are kept grounded to the cameos before mentioned, a few expected references to Danny, and even some subtle allusions to the original movie, like a jewelry store named after one of that films’ crew members and a possible suggestion that Frank Sinatra’s Danny Ocean is a relative.
Ocean’s Eight is a perfectly adequate revival of a once lucrative franchise -whether or not it can garner the two sequels it seems to be aiming for is to be determined. Certainly it’s better than either of Soderbergh’s follow-ups, and even the Lewis Milestone-directed original (which didn’t have much going for it outside of the charm of its cast). It’s pretty much exactly what I expected going in; and if you’re looking for an above-average variation of a likeable bunch of celebrities brought together to pull off a heist with all the twists and shenanigans that entails, it’ll be enough of a good time.